An outsider’s demand: listen to each other!

Bannockburn 2014 - but our everyday life isn't a fight, so why being that aggressive? ©Jansen/Pakura

Bannockburn 2014 – but our everyday life isn’t a fight, so why being that aggressive? ©Jansen/Pakura

People asked me why I’ve stopped frequently writing and commenting on Scottish affairs. The honest answer is: Because I don’t have any interest in fighting. And that’s also the reason why I didn’t travel to Scotland for quite some months now. The mood changed after indyref past year, and without meaning that judgmental, I personally think: not for the best. It’s not my exclusive perception; I’ve heard many stories about close friends and even relatives or couples whose rivers divided in ugly ways due to incompatible views, mostly of the political kind. And while just one year ago the general opinion seemed to be “Scotland is open to everyone, and everybody who’s interested in our country is welcome, also welcome to express their opinion”, today these are the kind of comments I get: “if you were here, you would understand”, “it’s not your country, so take care of your own business”, “don’t lecture to me, I know the truth”.

As a private person, I’m hurt by that. It puts my perception of Scotland and what it stands for into question. As a professional, I see a huge issue with communication within Scotland, but it’s impossible to help if the help isn’t required. These comments I’ve mentioned above are said by both sides, people who are (still) for independence and people who are (still) for the union. There are two astonishing things about that: One, why the heck is the indy-question still so much in the limelight for all that the multi-national Scottish nation is divided? Two, how can it be that they both become kinda aggressive towards the same (in that case: my) arguments?

The answer to the second question is much easier, so let’s check that out first. My position in public is shaped by my self-conception of being a journalist and seeing things as non-biased and questioning as possible for a subjective individual. So I don’t generally come in on one side or another, but I always try to understand and question the arguments of both sides. Without judging, I conclude that both sides do have arguments which are logical and right, and other arguments which are crap and pathetic manipulation. So my conclusion would be, and that’s what I stand for in this context, that both sides should start to cooperate, put all the good things they have and know and want onto one big table, throw all the prejudices and sensitivities away in order to develop things in a constructive way.

But does that happen? No. Because things became emotional, personal even, and the fronts are hardened. I deliberately say “fronts”, because it feels a bit like war. It’s a being against each other, a proving that the others are wrong. By blocking them, by ignoring them, by accusing them, by insulting them, by – on the other hand – glorifying persons and opinions that back the “good” side (question of perspective, or course), often uncritically. Arguments seem to be overrated, solutions as well, it’s a fight. I dislike fights, so I keep out. I’m perceived to being a kind of “traitor” from both sides, because I don’t really agree with anyone but put into question what is claimed. And being an outsider on top, that’s a kind of high treason. I’m no ally, so I must be an enemy: That seems to be the sad way of thinking in Scotland these days. The same Scotland that demands a more objective, non-biased press, by the way…

But why the division? The indyref question is answered democratically, so where’s the point? Speaking as a communication scientist, I’d say: The point is the lack of cross-disposition communication. I don’t believe that all people who stick to their dream of an independent Scotland do want a new referendum asap or do agree with everything the SNP does or wants. I don’t believe that all people who believe in the British union and its advantages are generally against giving Scotland more powers or autonomy. But they don’t listen to each other. For some people, it’s enough to ask them a simple question which suggests what they said might be wrong or not totally right, and they just say “fuck off” and stop the conversation. So eventually, it’s impossible to move on together, because it’s not about moving on any more, it’s about insisting on knowing the only truth, no matter whether or not it’s right. The only thing I could do or suggest, is: talking. Talk and listen, even to people you don’t agree with. And don’t contradict on principle, but just accept the opinion.

An old neighbour of my mother recently told me joke. I somehow feel like bowing out with this joke. It tells something about different ways of perception and reference points, and maybe it also shows why listening and taking the other one seriously is so important:

A boy tells his father that he has to explain political terms at school, but doesn’t know how. It’s about capitalism, government and so on. The father has a look at the terms and starts to explain. I generate money and bring it home, so I’m the capitalism. Your mother manages and spends it, so she’s the government. Some of it gets paid to our housemaid who is employed by us, so she’s the working class. We all do this in order to allow you a good life, because you’re the people. And your little sister, who is the future, makes it important to run a healthy economy and save money and resources for later. Did you understand that?”

The boy shakes his head and answers he may need to rethink it. At night, he wakes up, because his sister has pooped into her diaper, and it stinks terribly. So he thinks the adults should solve this problem, gets up and goes to his mother, but no matter how often he calls her, she will not wake up. So he goes to his father. Whose bed is empty. When he looks into the maid’s room, his father is eagerly busy with her, moaning and sweating, so that both do not notice the boy even though he calls them repeatedly. He shrugs and gets back to bed. Next morning, the father meets his son in the bathroom and asks if he rethought and understood those political terms. “Yes”, says the son, “now I understand very well, dad. The capitalism exploits the working class, while the government sleeps. The people and their will to solve a problem are ignored completely as if they weren’t there, and the future lies in shit.”

©Maria Pakura

GE: Truth is what you make of it

Tomorrow is the day: General Election (GE) 2015 in Great Britain. British people vote for their representatives in the parliament and lay down the political tracks for the following years. Being part of Europe and having several standards such as human rights, democracy, a social security system, general education and health care etc., the most important basics are safeguarded, no matter what the GE outcome might be. So the question is effectively about political details: demilitarisation vs. armament, energy transition vs. further use of nuclear powers (for arms but also power supply), profit maximization vs. support of disadvantaged people and small businesses, limiting the immigration vs. using it against skill shortage and demographic change. But reading and hearing what the parties’ campaigns and their supporters’ ideas are about, the voting pretends to be about some different things. Scottish independence, for example, or the end of austerity, or the end of the world even by conjuring a second Third Reich. Let’s see.

I won’t recite party manifestoes here (and eat them alive…). I am neither affiliated with a party or a political idea therefore, nor activist/mouthpiece for a single political view, and there are enough sites and blogs on all the programmes online yet. My concern is to encourage all the loud and the silent voters as well as all unconcerned Non-UK readers to think about some facts without getting influenced by the growing number of manipulators. What I’ve observed lately, reading blogs and tweets foremost, was worrying. There are people in the anonymity of the internet, hiding themselves behind fake names and fake or comic or avatar pics, telling their recipients in the chest voice of a prophet that they represent the real truth and the only right view, accusing dissidents of bad things and insulting them with abusive names only and solely because they don’t share their view. That’s not what the main idea of democracy is about. In particular if democracy is mopped-up in addition when the same people who fire against dissidents start whining about getting abused as soon as their dissidents fire back. Remember, no matter what your view is, every other person has the freedom to have an own view which might differ, and that’s perfectly okay. That’s freedom.

Some facts which possibly don’t have anything to do with the GE but might influence voters’ decisions if they don’t think about them reasonably:

  • GE 2015 and the past Scottish Independence Referendum (September 18th 2014) are two completely different things and have nothing in common, so both shouldn’t give direction to each other. It’s nonsense to “penalise” the SNP by voting “tactically” against it in the GE if the only reason is a No-support during the indyref. Indyref is over, Scotland said No, full stop. If former indyref-No-voters support SNP aims now and decide to vote for it, it’s not a decision against the British union, because the question is not separation now, the question is about political details and setting the course; see above. Equally, if independence-supporters tick most of their boxes when reading the Tory programme, they should vote for what they believe in. Indyref wasn’t about parties and political ideas, it was about separation. GE isn’t about separation, it’s about voting for representatives of one’s own political attitude.
  • Austerity is a strong word and can be used for all and nothing. Austerity means: going without something for a certain period of time, it means shortage. But that’s not necessarily bad. A fictive example: Imagine you get 1000 bucks per month and after paying for all running costs you have 100 for your free disposal. But you know that there’s a payment of tax arrears ahead in the amount of 600 for the year. There’s this dress though, and you desperately want to buy it – for 200. But that’s the money you have for yourself in two months = negative balance for one month, austerity for two months, right? No, not right. Because you cannot count with money which is not yours. Effectively you have a free disposal of only 50/month, not 100, because half of your 100/month are owned by the fiscal authority. That’s hurtful, yes, but it’s not your money although you get it. So 200 for a dress are what you have in four months, means you cannot go to cinema or for cocktails in four months if you buy it. It feels like austerity, but actually it’s the price you pay for the dress. You cannot blame the fiscal authority then, it’s not to blame for your inability to afford any expenses. You are to blame for your decision. But it’s not a bad thing, it doesn’t mean you’re generally poor, it only means you’ve treated yourself with a dress which was too expensive for your budget. It’s quite the same with the kind of austerity which is discussed everywhere these days: There is a budget, there are demands which cause costs, if more money than the budget implies gets spent there’s a gap, and this gap has to be filled, so expenses have to be saved somewhere = austerity. It’s necessary to refrain from amenities in order to satisfy needs – if the needs are more important than the amenities, and that’s the relevant point, not the result (= causing vs. avoiding austerity).
  • Poverty is another strong word and often misused in a manipulative way. Again the same example as above: It doesn’t mean that you’re poor if your budget doesn’t allow you to buy the 200-bucks-dress. You have clothes, you live in a dry place with a toilet and fresh water around, you get meals – in the worst case by making use of food banks. So you are not poor. Scotland – or Britain, that is – is not the only country in the world with food banks, Germany has them as well and many others, too. But fact is that no one really has to starve in European countries, we all pay for backstops for people who are socially and financially disadvantaged, and that’s good. So the actual problem is not about poverty in the literal meaning of the word – think of Third World issues with children starving to death, sleeping in the dirt without a warm place and fresh water even – but about equality. European people are not content with essential basics any more, they want to have a certain standard, based on self-determination (of nutricion, housing, clothing, consumption etc.). But some of these things – consumer goods in the first place – should be considered a kind of reward, not a taken-for-grantedness. People should take efforts to get it therefore. So helping the poor should mean helping people to be able to work for a better living standard, not just giving them more money. Politics against “poverty” do invest in education in the first place and is not about lowering taxes and the like.
  • Nationalism is a misused and misunderstood word. Like every other label of political tendencies it’s just a word in the first place and has to be filled with meaning by using it to describe a particular attitude and acting. If nationalism is about the idea that a community of people consider themselves “better”, about isolation, about devaluating everyone who’s not part of that community, it’s doubtlessly a bad thing; see Third Reich Germany, the preferred example of many #SNPout shouters webwide. If what the people of a community make of the word nationalism is about supporting all their fellow citizens (yes, also the ones who were born elsewhere and migrated), boost equal rights and opportunities, encourage the citizens to strengthen their economy by working hard and preferring products made in their home country without judging or deningrating “outsiders”, it can be a good thing. Nationalism is a word. Words are neutral. What people make of them makes them good or bad.
  • Celebrities earn their money with being popular. Sounds trivial, but it’s true. If they get involved into campaigns or support parties, their conviction can be but don’t need to be the reason. Other reasons can be publicity/image buildung/identification. So it’s never a good idea to vote for or against a party only because an idol speaks for or against it. Honestly, I’ve never thought about celebrities’ political views before, they didn’t play a role in election contexts in Germany during the past 30 years at least as far as I know from my own experience. But I’ve observed that they do play a role in GB, suprisingly enough. For example, JK Rowling was reported to stand firm against “cybernat abuse” here just two days before GE. It’s not okay to abuse anyone in any way, sure. But I was abused as well and not by nats, why aren’t the papers writing on that just before GE? Because I’m irrelevant? Why is JK Rowling relevant for the GE, in what way is she “more” than just an individual person with an individual view? But she has fans, many fans, and these fans might think “aw, poor JK, how could I possibly vote for nationalists if supporters abuse her”, right? That’s why articles like that shortly before voting day are manipulative, in my honest opinion, and that’s why I want to raise awareness for the fact that it’s not reasonable to melt fanship and voting decisions.

Enough. Voting day is just hours ahead. I don’t think the turnout will be much higher than 60% (61,4% in 2005, 65,1% in 2010, see here, but campaigns with a negative basic mood cause political apathy, I’d foretell), and I don’t think there will be big surprises concerning the outcome. It’s just a result, it’s neither good or bad. Important is what people will make of it. Truth will show itself in future.

©Maria Pakura

Fracking and other stumbling blocks

UK’s on the hustings. So Scotland as well, of course. The 55th General Election is scheduled for the coming May 7th, 98 days to go therefore. The critical phase of 100 days started past Monday. And in Scotland – or UK, that is – it’s not so very different from Germany: Parties and their leaders would proverbially sell their grans for more votes. Everyone tries to hit the taste of their target group and beyond. Just natural. That’s how campaigns work. I’ll have a closer look at the rhetorical methods used another day, that’s too interesting a topic to just rushing over. Because it’s obvious that badmouthing the opposition plays a bigger part than it would do in Germany.

Today, let’s check out the main topics first. At first glance, it’s much less emotional than the referendum campaigns were, hard facts and disputatious topics are in the foreground. But that’s emotional too, after all. Some of the most discussed are: immigration, austerity (or let’s call it economy, that’s less polemical), NHS/health, Europe and fracking.

The last is a funny thing in an odd way, because everyone tries to use it for their own arguments, and everyone’s right, partly anyway. The Greens and left wing parties or at least parts of them are against fracking, of course, and emphasize how risky that kind of intervention is or can be as it’s not foretellable what it might cause referring to subterranean water and soil conditions. There’s not one party that shrugs their shoulders and says “who cares”, and that’s just understandable (even if they thought “who cares”), because pretty much everyone is concerned about the future of climate and environment, and clean water is the source of all life on earth, so joking about “who cares” isn’t funny when it comes to endangering water supplies.

But water is a good key word here and for fracking supporters as well. A study (amongst others) stresses that fracking saves water, compared to other methods of winning gas and coal. So fracking can be an environmentally and even socially compatible method, on the other hand. Socially, because it’s no secret that the working conditions of miners in conventional settings aren’t the best and dangerous on top. But there’s still a “can be”, and that’s quite silent when parties speak of the fracking pros. The sticking point is the question whether or not chemicals and especially toxical chemicals are used.

Yes, there are clean fracking methods, and not just since yesterday. It’s more than three years ago that I first read about fracking without toxics and polluting chemicals here, and it’s very likely that these methods have been improved meanwhile. There’s a big “but” though. Why don’t all people buy fair trade products? Because they are more expensive. Why does the industry use cheap scents to flavour cosmetics and stuff although the number of allergy sufferers grows? Because of the price. And the price is the crucial point as well when it comes to clean versus conventional fracking. The profit margin is bigger when cheaper materials are used and the maximum is won. And chemicals are cheaper – or aren’t they? This article, just a month old, argues for a cheaper and cleaner fracking with plasma. But if something is new, we don’t know anything about possible long-term damages.

And back we are to the Greens’ arguments against fracking. So effectively, both sides have their points. It’s a pity that both sides reduce their own reliability by keeping quiet about the refutations. If fracking supporters said “yes, it can be a damage to our environment, but there are methods to avoid this, and think about how important it is to be self-sufficient in turbulent times like ours” or if the fracking detractors said “yes, we do need gas, and it’s important to be self-sufficient, but how can we make sure that only clean methods will be used in our country and what they will do to our environment, so think about our children’s future first and forget about the profit”, I’m convinced it would be much more effective than the usual “fracking is bad” versus “we need fracking”. People need explanations, they are no experts, and they believe in explanations more than they believe in claims. So let’s keep an eye out for reliable explanations henceforth.

©Maria Pakura